In this new Fireside Chat for Prioritised Members, Matt LeMay, author of Agile for Everybody and Product Management in Practice, sat down with our very own Martin Eriksson to discuss his now-famous Venn diagram describing product management, what it means, how it gets misinterpreted, and what we can do about it. Additionally, they discuss what defines a product manager, what it takes to be successful, and how to grow in your craft and career.
Watch the entire session in full or read on for the key points and tips including:
- What’s in a Venn?
- Using the Venn at organisations large and small
- Building a team around the Venn diagram
- Solving product decisions through collaboration
- Iterative product process in large organisations
- Communication as a product manager
What’s in a Venn?
Martin kicks off the session explaining how he originally created the diagram in an attempt to showcase what a product manager does. It provided a good way to present this information to teams. They discuss that the joy of the diagram is the connective nature of it — being in the middle of technology, business, and user experience.
The benefit of the Venn diagram is that it connects all of the most important factors of product management. However, Martin explains, one size doesn’t fit all. Teams miss out on utilising the full potential of the diagram because they don’t go beyond the image. It’s a way of understanding what skills you need in your team and what skills you want to care about. “It’s not imperative to have all of the skills, but understanding what you should be working towards is a big part for a product manager,” Matt says.
Ten years since the Venn diagram was created and published in What, exactly, is a Product Manager?, Martin explains that neither the structure or thinking behind it has changed. As teams have matured, the role of a product manager is more focused in the business circle. “Our job in the product team is to ensure that we are delivering value to our customers and therefore to us as a business,” he says, “I think that’s a good thing. It means that we’re trusting our coworkers to own that part of the product.”
Using the Venn at organisations large and small
Asked whether to adjust the Venn diagram for various company sizes, Martin explains that regardless of the organisation, it shouldn’t vary the team structure. “It’s about the effectiveness of the team. The best big companies are finding ways to scale small teams, and getting them to work similarly,” he says.
After scaling small teams, you can implement communication and alignment to ensure effectiveness as the company size grows, but the team structure shouldn’t be adjusted even if the user or business journey changes. “It’s important for big companies to invest in teams instead of projects. Give them ownership over a certain area, and it will help achieve business outcomes effectively.”
Building a team around the Venn diagram
Martin believes that businesses need to think about what skills teams currently have against what skills they need. “Taking that deep breath and looking at what the team needs to develop, how the addition will improve the product management, and what the team will look like in the future is a question that you always need to ask yourself,” Matt adds.
Whether it’s between product managers and business analysts, or product managers and UX researchers, there can sometimes be a fair amount of workload overlap. When this happens, Martin explains that product managers must create a collaborative relationship if that overlap occurs. “It’s important to work closely together with those central functions. Use the experts as coaches to improve your skills and expertise in that field if those clashes do happen.” He uses the example of product managers working on the same data, as analysts “you’re never going to get under the skin of the data you’re looking for if you don’t consult the data science experts on this,” Work together on the same piece of work so both teams can gain useful knowledge and insights.
Overall, find out what teams need to do to accomplish business goals, then find ways to approach these as a team. Matt says that teams shouldn’t follow a non-overlapping rule, but focus more on what tasks need to be completed. “All product roads lead back to starting a conversation with teams. Find out what’s working and what isn’t for you and your business.”
Solving product decisions through collaboration
Martin explains how important it is for the product manager to understand that they aren’t the manager of the team. Doing so ensures that all team members are working effectively towards a common goal and managing their workload well.
“It’s about creating a collaborative triad between the product managers, designers, and lead engineer […], the whole team is responsible for the product so actively communicating this is key.”
However, Matt says to not focus too much on the job titles. Hone in on what jobs need to be done to accomplish the overarching business goal. Results always trump idyllic process and hierarchical structure, Martin explains.
Constantly iterating and working out how people work best together is the best way to progress effectively, Martin says, “As soon as you begin referring to other people within your company as another business, you’re probably starting to head down the wrong path,”
Communication as a product manager
As a product person, you don’t need to feel like you have to be the smartest person in the room. Furthermore, you definitely don’t need to have all of the answers. “We as product managers are more likely to be susceptible to imposter syndrome because we’re not the experts in the design or engineering,” Martin says, “However we should embrace having the opportunity to connect all of the dots and ask all of the right questions.”
Matt adds that the most generous thing a product manager can do is be the person who asks that high-level question. Teams will want to have those questions asked in the room to bring meaning and clarity to the table.
To elevate that level of communication, Martin explains that demos can aid product managers in improving their skills and focus on objectives. The goal is to ensure that all product managers within a business communicate what they’re working on and why to the wider company. Doing so enforces that imperative level of communication across teams and forces you to question your own decisions regularly.
Matt closes by reiterating that product management is a team sport. “It’s all about connecting people. It’s imperative to ask people for their time, bring people together, and always be taking that broader view.”